The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution

By John Hunter; Ian Ralston | Go to book overview

Chapter Twelve

Landscapes of the Middle Ages
Towns 1050-1500John Schofield
PRINCIPAL CHRONOLOGICAL SUB-DIVISIONS
The period AD 1050-1500 in the British Isles is conventionally divided into three successive phases:
1 the development of towns and the countryside in a period of growth, 1050-1300;
2 the crises of the early and mid fourteenth-century, including the Black Death;
3 a long period of mixed fortunes from about 1350 to 1500, which comprised both decline for some towns and the rise of others, including in England the increasing dominance of London over a widening hinterland and a similar dominance in Scotland of Edinburgh.

In the eleventh century, there were already many towns in Britain, though the majority were in England, where Domesday Book records 112 places called boroughs in 1086. They were based on royal residences, or trading settlements, or the defended places of Saxons or Danes in the ninth and tenth centuries (Hinton 1990, 82-105). Some major centres such as London, Lincoln and York had longer histories, being Roman foundations of the first century AD.

In the towns, a period of comparative wealth and growth in the eleventh and twelfth centuries is illustrated by the range of civic and religious buildings that were constructed (Hinton 1990, 106-132; Platt 1978, 1-29). The great majority of urban defences in England and Wales, for instance, were built, or at least begun, before 1300. The Normans moved the seats of bishops to towns, which meant several new cathedrals, and established centres of secular authority. This usually meant the destruction of large areas of the Saxon towns to accommodate both cathedrals and castles (see Chapter 13). In the thirteenth century, the friars arrived in Britain seeking populous locations, and hospitals were founded in and around many urban places.

Weekly markets in the smaller towns are mentioned in the twelfth but especially in the thirteenth centuries; sometimes the grant of the market itself is recorded. The fair, on the other hand, was a wider kind of market, usually held once a year and lasting for at least three days and sometimes for as long as six weeks. As the market was the centre for exchange within the neighbourhood, so the fair was the centre for foreign wares, brought from outside the locality.

Between 1200 and 1500 about 2,800 grants of market were made by the English Crown, over half of them in the period 1200-75. Village markets and seasonal local fairs were augmented by weekly or bi-weekly markets held in centres of production, both existing towns and new towns. This was happening all over Europe, for instance in south-west France (the interface between the English and French kingdoms) and along the Baltic coast. Towns were valuable pieces of property,

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